‘Carmen’ featuring dancing horses preview in Clinton, June 4

CLINTON — There were six horses, each three-quarters of a ton of moving muscle, gliding across the arena with riders on their backs, each stepping in time to music. They moved with grace, with elasticity and in near-perfect formation.

The scene was an indoor riding arena at Idlenot Farm in Clinton in spring 2019.

“I was just blown away by the horses’ innate sense of rhythm and their precise movements,” said Kate Ford, general director of the Opera Theater of Connecticut.

She and Alan Mann, Opera Theater artistic director, watched Patricia Norcia, owner and dressage trainer at the farm, her diminutive frame belying her quietly outsized personality. They watched her sense of the dramatic, of pomp, of occasion.

“Let’s do this,” Ford said, referring to Norcia’s idea of ​​a production of Carmen, one of the best-known and best-loved operas of all time, that includes prominent roles for her horses and riders.

“Horses will do their numbers to the music, and that will set the stage for the opera singers singing, and they’ll alternate through the highlights of the opera,” Norcia said. “It’s never been done, as far as I know.”

On Saturday, June 4, Idlenot Farm will host a preview presentation and fundraiser for the main event in September, when the OTC, in collaboration with High Hopes Therapeutic Riding, will stage “La Passion de Carmen in the Arena” at the High Hopes Arena in Old Lyme.

For Norcia, the concept has been over two decades in the making.

It began when Norcia, at the time a professional actress and director in New York City, would see performances of the opera Carmen at the Metropolitan Theater.

“They usually had horses, but they would basically stand there and then just walk off,” said Norcia.

“If you see the film of Carmen with Placido Domingo, there are a ton of horses, especially in the bullfighting scene, and the horses are what they’re supposed to be, they’re fancy Spanish horses.”

“I kept thinking, someday when I have Spanish horses, I would love to do a Carmen where the horses actually get to dance to this fantastic music.”

Norcia, who grew up in Rome, recalled seeing wild horses run through the town where her family vacationed. They captured her imagination.

“Always when I was in school, all I did was draw horses, and think of them, and take pictures of them,” she said. When her family came to the US, she began riding lessons, learning to jump and trail-ride. She was 14.

“I knew that I wanted to do something that was more artistic and then I saw dressage,” she said. She was hooked.

“Dressage requires the horse and rider to combine the strength and agility of gymnastics with the elegance and beauty of ballet,” she said.

From the age of 25, she regularly traveled to Spain to study the origins of the discipline, refining the skills to develop what’s been termed “a living work of art” that is the horse and rider in complete harmony.

Totally, she was pursuing a career as a professional actress. “Broadway, off-Broadway, regional theater, television,” said Norcia, who trained at the Yale School of Drama. She said she’s best known for “The Art of Ruth Draper,” a one-woman show that she performed at Carnegie Hall, among other venues.

While doing summer stock in Vermont some years later, Norcia restarted riding lessons. “I met a little 2-year-old Morgan Arabian, and I ended up buying her for $700 at the end of the summer,” she said.

Soon she found herself riding more and more. “I was asked by my barn to pay for my horse’s board by teaching,” she said. Her riding clientele grew. She imported her first horse from Spain.

“And then I had four horses, and that’s when my husband and I decided that maybe it was time to get a horse farm in Clinton,” she recalled. “We wanted to get out of the city, for our kids to go to public school.”

One day, she was driving along Main Street in Clinton and saw a sign at the town hall. “Opera tonight by the Opera Theater of Connecticut,” it read. “I said to myself how can the little town of Clinton actually have an opera company?” she recalled.

Norcia knew Ford and Mann from her involvement with the Opera Theater of New Jersey during her years in New York. She enrolled herself and her two children in their opera company. She continued giving lessons and training horses in classical and competitive dressage. A few years later, she broached her idea of ​​her horses dancing to a production of Carmen with Ford.

She and Mann drove over to Idlenot Farm and watched. The rest is history.

Over the course of rehearsals, “we learned from Patricia that some horses are more musical than others and the ones that are extremely musical will find that beat and they will measure their trot to that beat immediately,” Ford, the general director, said.

The ones trained in dressage, she said, “tend to be the more music-oriented ones.”

Mann said both the two-legged and four-legged artists will be attired in brightly colored costumes, with a nod toward Spain. “There will be a grand military entrance, training for a bullfight, as well as drama, passion, unrequited love, and tragedy, all the good stuff,” he said.

Carmen will be played by Rebecca de Almeida, a decorated Brazilian mezzo soprano with a “luscious voice and warm timbre,” as a review in Tribuna CT found. She’ll debut at Carnegie Hall later this year.

The collaboration with High Hopes Therapeutic Riding, which is providing the arena, is a special bonus, and not just because it’s in “a beautifully wooded area and easily accessible,” as Ford put it.

“High hopes and I have had a long relationship,” Norcia said. “It’s a wonderful, wonderful place that has done some incredible things for young people. Kids who can’t walk get to walk because the horse gives them their legs.”

“This is all so wonderful,” she added. “It’s a dream come true. I can’t wait.”

The fundraiser is at Idlenot Farm, 188 Cow Hill Rd, Clinton at 1 pm on June 4, 2022. Tickets, $50 each. The event has been sold out as of press time.

“La Passion de Carmen in the Arena” will be presented on Sept. 10 and 11 at 3 pm at High Hopes Arena, 36 Town Woods Road, Old Lyme.

For tickets, $50, visit www.operatheaterofct.org/la-passion-de-carmen-in-the-arena/ or call 860-669-8999. Reserved seating with reception tickets are also available with a chance to meet and greet the two-legged and four-legged artists after the show, while enjoying wine and hors d’oeuvres.

To donate to The Opera Theater of Connecticut, visit www.operatheaterofct.org.

For more information on Idlenot Farm, visit www.patricianorciadressage.com.

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